The American crow is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. Despite historic persecution through poisoning, hunting and other means, these birds are highly adaptable and continue to thrive in many areas.
Common Name: American Crow, Common Crow, Crow
Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
Scientific Family: Corvidae
Appearance and Identification
At first it might seem simple to identify the American crow as a large, all-black bird, but these birds look very similar to other corvids and it can be difficult to get a positive identification. Birders who are familiar with this widespread bird's key field marks and other attributes will feel more confident about identifying crows.
- Bill: Black, thick
- Size: 18 inches long with 35-40-inch wingspan, long legs
- Colors: Black, iridescent, brown, white (rare)
- Markings: Male and female birds are identical with allover black plumage that may show blue-violet iridescence in bright sunlight. Feathers on the throat are short and smooth. The legs and feet are also black, and the eye is a dark brown that frequently appears black. In flight, these birds show a square-tipped tail that is straight across, and rare individuals may show white wing patches. Wings in flight often have joints pushed prominently forward.
Foods, Diet and Foraging
Crows are opportunistic omnivores and will sample just about any available food source. This includes insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, eggs, mollusks, seeds, fruit, carrion and garbage or kitchen scraps. They often seek out more easily available foods, but are intelligent and curious enough to try new things, which allows them to thrive on many foods.
Habitat and Migration
The American crow is found year-round throughout the continental United States in many habitats with the exception of very heavy forests or the most arid deserts. During the summer, the breeding range extends to include most of Canada except the extreme north. Highly adaptable, American crows prefer open or sparsely wooded habitat such as agricultural areas, but they can become urbanized and are frequently seen on golf courses, athletic fields, parking lots and landfills.
These birds are best known for their familiar "caw-caw" call that has a raspy, hoarse quality. The pitch, tempo and length of the call can vary, as well as the number of repetitions. A rapid rattle is also common, and American crows have been known to mimic other birds' calls and non-bird sounds.
These are highly intelligent birds that have shown problem solving skills in lab settings, typically for gaining access to food. In the wild, they will mob and dive bomb hawks, owls, herons and other intruding birds, and some crows even seem to instigate mobbing as a form of play or entertainment, even harassing cats or dogs. These birds will collect shiny objects and often store them in their nests. In the winter, they can form large flocks of more than a million birds, and even in summer they are rarely solitary, especially if food sources are abundant.
American crows are monogamous birds and a mated pair work together to build a nest of twigs and sticks, with an inner cup lined with pine needles, animal fur or similar soft, finer materials. Both parents will incubate a brood of 3-8 pale blue-green or olive-green eggs for 17-18 days. The eggs often show specks or blotches toward the larger end. The young chicks are cared for by both parents for 28-35 days, and unmated birds may assist in hatchling care – it is common for birds from earlier broods to help raise siblings, even in consecutive years. American crows may raise 1-2 broods per year.
Attracting American Crows
American crows readily visit yards offering cracked corn and suet, particularly in hopper or ground feeders. Because these birds can form huge feeding flocks, however, they are often considered a nuisance. To keep them away from your yard, avoid offering these foods and remove outdoor pet food, windfall fruit and other scraps as well. Keep garbage cans securely covered, and clean up spilled seed to prevent ground feeding. Specialized feeders for smaller birds are also designed to prevent American crows and similar birds from feeding.
American crows are not considered threatened or endangered, though they are occasionally persecuted, particularly in agricultural areas where a large flock can dramatically damage crops. Special deterrents can be useful to keep crows away if needed. These birds are particularly susceptible to West Nile virus infections, and further study is necessary to determine how to protect flocks from the spread of the disease.
- Common Raven (Corvus corax)
- Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus)
- Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)
- Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus)
- Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
- Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)